Hull hopes court will turn back the sea

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The Independent Online
HULL is taking John Gummer to law to try to stop him turning the city into a seaside resort. Its city council is seeking a judicial review of the Environment Secretary's decision, reported in the Independent on Sunday in November, to designate mu ch of the River Humber as open sea.

This arbitrary re-drawing of Britain's coastline appears designed to enable the privatised Yorkshire Water to avoid having to build a £200m sewage works to clean up 90 per cent of the city's effluence, which at present flows untreated into the estuary. But the council believes that Mr Gummer's bizarre ruling breaches both an EU directive and British law, and is asking leave to apply for a judicial review to quash it.

Mr Darryl Stephenson, Hull's chief executive and town clerk, says: "We are extremely confident of success. We want to clean up the estuary because the sewage sloshing back and forth in the Humber is not giving us the best image in the world and does not help us to attract business and jobs."

The controversy has arisen from the way the Government has tried to exploit a loophole in a new EU directive aimed at cleaning up Europe's water pollution black spots. Under it, all towns and cities discharging sewage to estuaries and the sea must have it thoroughly treated. But the loophole allows much less stringent treatment, which removes only about a fifth of the pollution for sewage which is discharged directly to parts of the open sea where it would be particularly quickly dispersed.

Last summer Mr Gummer designated the Humber as one such "high natural dispersion area". But this alone would not have been enough to allow Yorkshire Water to avoid having to build the new sewage works as the directive only allows exemptions for settlements of fewer than 10,000 people on estuaries, so the Environment Secretary moved the official coastline more than 27 miles inland to the Humber Bridge, making Hull a coastal city.

The council's submission to the High Court says that even this will not be enough as the directive permits exemptions to coastal waters only for cities of fewer than 150,000 people, unless the EU gives special permission - and the population

of Hull and its suburbs is twice as great. It also says that the Humber is too polluted to qualify as a special area under the loophole.

Local MP Kevin McNamara cites a "dead body test" to prove that the Humber cannot be designated "a high natural dispersion area".

The police, he says, find that the bodies of suicides who jump off the Humber Bridge never reach the sea but wash up and down the estuary until recovered. "I can give you the names of a number of ministers whom I will be quite happy to see trying to disprove this," he said.

The Department of the Environment said it did not know that the council had applied for a judicial review and that it had been hoping to set up a meeting with its officers.